Peonies From The Field

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Peony Facts - For well over a century herbaceous garden peonies have been cherished garden plants in North America. Prized for their range of colours, their large often extravagant and intoxicatingly fragrant flowers add bright splashes to garden borders and beds. The blooms make wonderful cut flowers and the shrub-like stems of the plant remain after the blooms have finished providing a handsome and dark green background in the garden throughout the season. Few plants, once established, bloom so reliably year after year with such little care. In the garden, peonies require little attention to thrive, making them the perfect choice for everyone including beginning gardeners.

In our part of the country (east/central Ontario) late May to mid to late June is the prime time to enjoy these splendid plants in glorious bloom. Although fall is the time to plant peonies, spring is the time to pick your favourites and to select the right colour and variety for your garden. In Ontario there are several public gardens with peony collections. Visit the Oshawa Valley Botanical Gardens to view their wonderful Peony Collection. For peony enthusiasts, the Canadian Peony Society provides useful information and can be contacted through their website www.peony.ca.

Peony Planting Hints - The ideal time to plant or to divide and transplant peonies is anytime during the fall season when the ground is not frozen. Choose a sunny, well drained location. As with all perennials, thorough initial soil preparation will ensure cultural success. Soil should be well tilled and amended with compost before planting. Do not plant your peonies too close to trees as the tree roots will compete for food and moisture. When spacing peonies in a bed or border allow approximately 1 metre (3-4 feet) for each plant. (Dwarf varieties can be closer.) When you are ready to plant, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root system. Fill the empty hole with water and let the water completely drain from the hole. The most common problem with planting or transplanting peonies is planting too deep. Plant your herbaceous peonies with the uppermost eyes no more than 1" to 2" (2.5cm - 5cm) below the soil surface with the eyes facing upwards. Fill the hole with soil, tamp lightly and water. For the first winter it is a good idea to loosely mulch new roots. If you experience frost heaving do not push the plant back down into the soil but rather build up the soil around it. Remove the mulch in the spring to allow new growth to come to the surface.

After Flowering - At the nursery we remove the spent flowers. This allows the plant to continue root development that it might otherwise forsake at the expense of producing seed pods. In your garden spent flowers can be removed or left on. As some varieties, especially singles and semi-doubles, will produce decorative seed heads after flowering, you may choose to leave them on. Never cut down your peony's foliage right after flowering as you are removing the plants ability to make and store food reserves for next year's early growth and flowering.

Fall Cleanup - Peony foliage continues to look good after flowering and provides a background in your garden for the rest of the season. Allow the foliage to remain on the plant until touched by frost. In late fall cut your herbaceous peony's stems down to within an inch (2.5cm) above the ground. Remove the foliage from the garden since it can serve as a haven for fungus.

To Divide Your Peony - In the fall, dig well out from around the crown of the plant and deep enough to lift the tuberous roots out intact. Carefully remove the dirt and cut off the foliage. Using a sharp knife or spade, cut the plant into sizeable portions with at least 3-5 eyes each. Proceed to plant divisions as per instructions above.

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